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More Strange Tales – Read ‘em and Weep

It’s Friday.

Friday evenings used to mean poker. Or something vaguely resembling poker. As close as we comic book people could approximate it. Unsophisticated, and yet charmingly buffoonish in its utter lack of skill.

Thirty-five years ago, almost every Friday evening, a bunch of us would gather at somebody’s place to play poker. Usually, early on, it was the vast apartment Paul Levitz shared with Marty Pasko down on Mercer Street.

That place was terrific. It was really like two fairly spacious apartments with a common kitchen and living room, which was the size of a football field. All right, maybe the living room was only the size of tennis court. The point is it was big. It was in the middle. Paul’s rooms were to the right as you walked in and Marty’s were to the left. It was a nice, new building and a nice, comfy place. And they had a big table, perfect for cards.

Regular attendees in the early days included Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Mitchell, Mike Barr, Paul and Marty, of course, and me. I’m probably forgetting some people.


Paul Kupperberg came once in a while.

We played for dimes.

And we played the weirdest games. It was dealer’s choice. Marv’s favorite game was what normal people called “low man in the hole,” a seven card stud game in which the lowest hidden card was wild. Marv called this game “low moose in the hole,” or just “low moose.” With Marv, everything was “moose.” Mooses? Meece? Whatever. If he turned up three of a kind, he would declare his hand “three mooses,” even if they were fives.

And, while we’re on Marv, he wasn’t exactly steeped in the lore of the game. Before we started, someone, usually Paul or me, would have to write out a list for him showing the ranking of the hands, from highest to lowest: 1. straight flush, 2. Four of a kind, 3. Full house, etc. 

In the middle of a hand, while pondering risking twenty more cents to stay in, Marv would often look at his cards, run his finger down the list, stopping, say, at two pair, then say, “I call,” and toss two more dimes into the pot.

So, everybody knew he had two pair.

If it had been a bluff it would have been genius.

It wasn’t.

One of our rules was that “royalties” were paid by everyone at the table to anyone who got four of a kind or a straight flush. Royalties were a dollar each later on. In those early days it might have been a quarter each. I forget. That was in addition to the money they surely won on the hand itself.

Royalties came up more often than you’d expect because we played so many wild card games. The trouble with wild cards is that they sometimes give rise to debates about whether five of a kind beats a straight flush…and do both hands get royalties?

Sigh.

The real point of the poker games, by the way, wasn’t gambling. The card playing was far from serious—how are you going to force people to fold with your pocket kings if all you can bet is twenty cents? No bluff ever worked. Somebody with a fruit salad hand could stick around, pull an inside straight on the last card and win. I don’t think Len ever folded.

The point was socializing. Laughing. Honking and hooting in undignified ways. Making fun of whatever, including each other. Marv would lament that his cards “sucked moose dick in the moonlight.” Why that always got a laugh, I don’t know, except, maybe because we were all drunk as one can get on Diet Coke and had been laughing so much anyway that anything seemed funny. “Linoleum” seemed funny.

“Is there supposed to be a three of cups in this deck?”

“The cards in my hand haven’t been formally introduced.”

“This isn’t a hand, it’s a foot.”

Etc. And worse.

If Paul was losing, he’d excuse himself from a few hands, go into his office, write a page or two of the Legion, then return to the game, satisfied that the thirty bucks or so he’d just earned made him comfortably “up for the night” money-wise. Marty tried to do the same thing once, but it took him so long to write a page that he missed the rest of the game.

There were occasional outbreaks of outrageous, nonsensical, comedic insult-duels. Inevitably, one of the comicombatants would say, “Your mother…!” Then Steve Michell, as big as me and more intimidating, would loudly warn, “NO MOTHERS!” And we’d laugh and get on with the evening’s fifty-two card follies.

Steve decided, for reasons unknown, to start calling Mike Barr “Mister Meat,” or just “Meat.” At first Mike bristled, but after a while let it go. The nickname wasn’t going away—it had too many applications for snappy patter, such as “dead Meat,” “Meat your doom,” etc. You can guess.

In spite of all that, there wasn’t much in the way of really gross, disgusting or off-color stuff. It was creative and crazy humor, peppered with curses and mooses, but not nasty. The f-word was flung around sometimes, but nobody got too personal or raunchy. And, no mothers, believe me. Except once. It was my fault. I’ll tell you later.

So, you get the lay of the land, right?

One evening, Paul Kupperberg joined us. He was sitting to my left. I was dealing. I tended toward the more standard games, regular stud and draw, no common cards, no wild cards. I dealt “five card draw, jacks or better to open.”

For those who don’t know, that means that the player who makes the opening bet must have a pair of jacks in his hand or something higher than a pair of jacks—a pair of queens, for instance. If it’s your turn to bet and no one has “opened” yet, and you don’t have jacks or better, you say “I pass,” or “I can’t open,” and the bet passes to the next player.

So, the person to my right, couldn’t open. Neither could the next guy. Everyone passed, all the way around the table to Paul Kupperberg. He passed. I didn’t have jacks or better either, so, it was a dead hand, a re-deal. Everyone threw in his cards. As Paul Kupperberg tossed his cards in, I saw them flashing past my eyes—the two, three, four, five and six of clubs! A NATURAL STRAIGHT FLUSH!

“Hold it!” I said, grabbing PK’s cards. “This is a straight flush! Why on Earth did you fold?!”

“I didn’t have jacks,” PK said, looking a little puzzled.

“It was Jacks or BETTER. This is better!”

Hysterical laughter and derision of PK ensued.

Paul Levitz retired the deck. Later, he forced PK to SIGN A CONFESSION! Words to the effect: “I, Paul Kupperberg, on (date) folded a straight flush….” Levitz then had the confession with the five-club straight flush framed. I suppose he still has it.

Ask Levitz. Or Steve Mitchell. Or PK himself. I ran into him at a party at Jeff Rovin’s house a few years ago. My girlfriend Ellen, an excellent poker player herself, upon being introduced to PK said, “Wait…are you the one who folded a straight flush?”

I’m sure he was pleased to meet her.

Anyway….

The venue changed sometimes, the cast of crazies changed, but the Friday evening poker games continued fairly regularly for the next ten or twelve years. Among those who ante’d up were Jack Abel, Al Milgrom, Roger McKenzie, sometimes with his wife Dickie, Bob McLeod, Mike Zeck, Renee Witterstatter, Tom DeFalco, Denny O’Neill, Paul Becton, JayJay, Debbie Fix and even Jenette Kahn for a while. John Byrne came once with a female friend in tow, while in town from Calgary for a con. And there were many other one-shot guest appearances and occasional players. I’ll remember more later.

Once in a while on a Friday, when nostalgia overwhelms me, I’ll throw in a poker tale along with the usual rants and reminiscences.

MONDAY: Writer Editors

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29 Comments

  1. I always say that line every time I win. Thanks.

  2. I'm not qualified to tell Paul Levitz's story but I'll say this: he's a guy who loves comics, he's incredibly smart, he has a biz school education, he's very creative and talented and his "meteoric rise" had a lot to do with out-working everyone else. He's a suit and a creator, and a good guy. Long may he wave.

  3. Basilicious

    Jim-

    I've always been curious about the meteoric career rise of Paul Levitz. How did Levitz rise from being a lowly comic book writer to the most powerful man (at least in title) at DC Comics? I presume he must have some kind of business savvy or in addition to his writing talent to have gone so far. But is he a suit or is he a creator?

    Curious to get your thoughts. Thank you in advance.

  4. Brian, at that weekly game, believe it or not, we went counterclockwise. I'd like to say, "as in Europe," but no, that's just how we did it. Does that give you a clue as to the sophistication level?

  5. Brian R

    Jim wrote: "So, the person to my right, couldn’t open. Neither could the next guy. Everyone passed, all the way around the table to Paul Kupperberg."

    Just for the record, poker action moves to the left.

    Other than that, I have no other criticisms of this blog. I started at the beginning last week and have read it all to this point. I love it. Thanks very much for taking the time to write it Jim. Thank you also to JayJay for the assist.

    Now back to reading.

  6. I don't think Miller or Gillis ever came to one of our games.

  7. KintounKal

    The Thing's poker games began in Marvel Two-in-One #51 ("Full House — Dragons High") written by Peter B. Gillis and pencilled by Frank Miller. That issue went on sale January 30th, 1979 coinciding with Daredevil #158 ("A Grave Mistake"). In other words, Marvel published Miller's 4th and 5th Marvel comic on the same day.

  8. I don't know. I think the Thing's poker nights bit came long after our games were history.

  9. Anonymous

    Were these nights what inspired The Thing's Poker nights Marvel uses as a plot point every once a year or so? If not, was there any real world inspiration?

  10. kintounkal

    Mars Bonfire,

    Nothing would please me more. If Pariah stops replying to me, I promise to never type anything negative about him again. Even though I feel I was bullied for liking something controversial, the last thing I want to do is stifle conversation.

  11. Hello everyone, can we have an amnesty, a fresh start as of today? That we will all agree that we can disagree, that we won't take it personally, that we won't dwell on past disagreements or pursue any perceived sleights.

    This is an excellent blog by Jim Shooter which I look forward to daily and I also look forward to the discussion afterwards in the comment sections. There is a lot of respect (love?) for Jim's work and there is intelligent discussion adding extra insight, perspectives and enriched with facts as discovered by us readers.

    I really enjoy this blog, but I would prefer the comments not to descend to personal slanging matches that one can find so easily on YouTube comments section.

    I want the comments section to add to Jim's daily postings, not to detract.

  12. kintounkal

    Pariah,

    Go to Hell, you bastard. Are you really so delusional that you think you're immune to being banned yourself?

  13. Dear Mr troll you can keep showing your ass around here and you will probably get banned sooner or later.

    As for the poker comment it has nothing to do with smarts since i have never played it at all.

  14. kintounkal

    Anonymous,

    I wholeheartedly agree it's not nice. However, I'm just regurgitating word for word what Pariah already said to me earlier on in the thread titled 'Gerber and the Duck Part 1'. Pariah's attitude is even more unwarranted since he can't distinguish between undeniable fact and ambiguous information.

    Check the dates of the posts and you'll notice he insulted me at 12:30 PM and I retaliated at 1:39 PM. If you buy a Justice League comic and the first page features Batman punching the Joker, do you just automatically assume Bruce has snapped?

  15. Anonymous

    That's not too nice at all.

  16. kintounkal

    Pariah,

    I'm not surprised to hear card games are too complicated for you. You need to seriously get your head checked professionally if you're too dumb to player poker.

  17. i would love to learn to play poke or at least play it and then try and learn it.

  18. I played poker with Jim Shooter one time in Miami. We were at a Miami Comic Convention. I was there with my buds, John Beatty and Mike Zeck.

    Beatty, Zeck and I played poker all the time. I mean ALL. THE. TIME. Of course we were all much younger then. Good Times.

  19. I carried on as usual, mostly, though I skipped a couple of games immediately after the incident. The game slowly shifted to other peoples' places. Paul wasn't always there. When we ran into each other again, at games and elsewhere, we were cordial enough. I got over it.

  20. Anonymous

    Were you having these friendly games of poker with Paul Levitz when that unpleasant incident with the Superman/Spider-Man team up happened? The one where Levitz unreasonably insisted on holding you to the contract terms? If so, it must have been REALLY awkward between you two at the next game!

  21. I love your site. Nice to read what went on behind the scenes of my favorite comic books.

  22. I'm no mom, at least not a people mom. I've never even owned pets until moving in with my boyfriend Freddy. He has a sweet cat. It was always way too much responsibility for me. I was even reluctant about the cat but now I love the crazy thing to pieces. And worry about it constantly. Figures. lol.

    I admire people who can be good parents, though. It's a lot of work. My sister has been a great mom.

  23. kintounkal

    Ellen's comment to Paul Kupperberg made me smile. According Mark Waid's creator bio, he made a similar comment upon being introduced to Stan Lee. Mark describes his most embarassing moment as trying to liven up his first meeting with Stan Lee by saying, "Hey! You're the guy who created Batroc The Leaper!" Mark added "He didn't laugh. In restrospect, really, who would?"

  24. Oh come now, JayJay. Jim said you played… or were you not a mom at that time?

    P.S., I understood Jim's "no mothers" terminology the same way … no mother jokes. Such jokes were still the rage in my childhood, but they were always dangerous, because no matter how well a group knew each other, how light the atmosphere, eventually someone would use a "your mother's so…" line that someone would take it personally and then the fun was over, night ruined.

    It's probably a good rule. 🙂

  25. @Mars – good point!

  26. I'm just glad that Marty Pasko was still slow writing scripts in the early 80s, otherwise Len Wein wouldn't have asked Alan Moore to take on Swamp Thing.

  27. Must mean no mother jokes. I remember back when mother jokes were all the rage. I think it started from guys doing the dozens.

    But, hmm, now that you mention it, I can't recall any mothers playing poker. Though later when we played at Jack Abel's house his lovely wife and mother of his children, Adele, used to put up with us quite graciously.

  28. Dear Jim and JayJay,

    I don't know how to play any card games. If not for card-themed superheroes, I might not even remember the names of the suits. So I appreciated the "Poker Hand Rankings" graphic. I finally understand what those terms mean!

    Despite my ignorance, I could still relate to much of this post. Feelings are universal.

    No mothers? Were you guys running a patriarchy? 🙂

  29. Not a card player at all (in truth, I hate playing all numerical card games), but I love a good card story. This was a good card story. Thank you.

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